Pilbara Regional Council urges open skies
The head of the Pilbara’s local government body has called for the State Government to stop toying with the aviation industry as the Government launches an inquiry into prices for regional airfares.
Tourism Minister Paul Papalia announced the inquiry into flight costs last week, which will report on factors contributing to the high cost of regional airfares and provide recommendations on how to limit costs.
Pilbara Regional Council chief executive Tony Friday said Government meddling, particularly in relation to protected routes, should be front and centre of the debate.
Mr Friday said protected routes limited the number of carriers eligible to service regional routes, with the aim of ensuring continuity of service.
“It is nothing more than market intervention, not letting the free market operate openly,” he said.
“These problems are of Government making — fringe benefits tax tinkering, routes tinkering — get the hell out of the way and let a genuinely open market determine pricing.”
Mr Friday said Qantas and Virgin were simply doing their job to maximise returns to shareholders.
He said if the State Government insisted on tinkering with the market, it should introduce similar subsidies to what is provided for public transport in Perth.
Dampier resident Shari Kyle is the latest in a long line of Pilbara residents to take aim at the cost of regional air travel.
In Ms Kyle’s case, it was not a ticket, but a $144 freight cost from Perth to Karratha for a passport which had her miffed.
A spokeswoman for Mr Papalia said freight costs would not be included in the inquiry.
Ms Kyle said with the amount of seats available on most flights, carriers should look into providing cheap last-minute airfares.
“Instead they just take advantage of people in a desperate situation by doing the opposite,” she said.
A Qantas spokeswoman said factors such as landing fees, aircraft type and demand all contributed to pricing.
The spokeswoman said the per-kilometre cost of small aircraft on thinner routes was significantly higher, which was reflected in pricing.
“The Qantas Group will participate and is focused on a constructive dialogue that covers both the costs and the challenges specific to intra-WA routes,” she said.
The spokeswoman said high airport charges in regional WA contributed to higher airfares.
Findings are due in November.
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